We stepped off the plane only to be wrapped by the intense heat. With miles of sea ahead of us and the mountain in our backs, it dawned on me: this is home. A home away from home perhaps, but I could feel it, one deep breath of warm air after another; sea mist, tarmac, and gasoline.
It had been over two years since our last trip to the south of France. Before we knew it, we’d fallen asleep to the sound of crickets through the shutters we’d left open, and woke up the next day to roosters crowing on the hill across our house.
Just like a good holiday morning should start, we had breakfast under the pergola at the back of the house. Coffee and spelt milk. Baguette with butter and a generous spoon of vibrant melon des Charentes [cantaloupe melon] jam that my grand-mère made (in 2013, according to the label).
Yes, of course, I couldn’t leave without a jar.
If you’re interested, you should know it’s perfectly safe to pack a little over ten jars of jams and pickled mushrooms into your suitcase. Here is how: wrap them with more layers of clingfilm than deemed acceptable, then place them into a zipped plastic bag, and roll them into the thickly knit sweaters you didn’t wear once on your holidays. Cross your fingers and open your suitcase as soon as you get home.
A few hours later.
We drove the car down narrow roads until we almost reached the bottom of the valley. And there stood a terraced field, dry from the sun, with at its top the fullest figuier [fig tree] I had ever seen.
As we walked towards it, the perfume from its leaves left little to wonder about how delectable the fruits would be.
A little over twenty minutes later.
Our skin itched from the sap. And our basket was heavy with plump small figs. Naturally we’d eaten a few as we picked them, and oh my!
Confiture de figues
There is always something magical about making jam, but fig jam has to be one of my favourites. I don’t know if it’s the slight crunch from the seeds, or the deep red colour. Perhaps, it’s just because I can’t eat fig jam without thinking about our childhood, when towards the end of the summer, we’d ride our bicycle to the nearest tree and pick as many figs as we could eat.
The recipe here is for 1kg of figs but don’t hesitate to multiply it according to how much fruit you have around. After we’d eaten a good two kilograms of figs and left another in a ceramic bowl by the sink, we had around 3kg left, which we turned into jam, making around 12 odd sized jars.
For the record, if making big batches, I tend to go for 4-5kg of fruits at a time as I’ve found that if using more, the jam, which will take longer to cook, won’t have such a vibrant colour and flavours due to some of the sugar caramelising.
As with every of my jam recipes, the sugar – granulated, as it contains less impurities, and thus creates less foam to skim – and water get cooked to 110°C before the fruits are added.
This step, which I see as fundamental, has one major impact on the jam cooking time, which makes it not only convenient, but also reduces the time during which the fruits are cooked, maintaining a fresh flavour.
A note on the citric acid: I like to use citric acid powder and not lemon juice, as I’ve found that it keep the fruits’ flavour more intact, however I used lemon juice this time around and was satisfied with the results, although I’ll keep on sticking to my citric acid for the future as it awakens the jam in a way lemon juice doesn’t.
No matter which one you go for, always add it at the end of the cooking process – off the heat.
Confiture de figues
Makes 4 to 6 jars
1 kg granulated sugar
300 g water
1 kg black figs, quartered
40 g lemon juice or 20 g citric acid diluted in 2 tbsp of cold water (read note above)
Sterilise jars by plunging them, along with their lids, in a pan of boiling water for approximately one minute. Then take them out and invert them onto a clean cloth. Allow to cool down, while you get on with the jam.
Place the sugar and water into a large pan. Bring to the boil and cook to 110°C. Add the figs and simmer over medium heat for approximately 10 minutes, stirring every now and then until the jam reaches 104°C.
Take off the heat and skim off any scum using a small laddle. Mix in the lemon juice, then using an immersion blender set on the lowest speed, blitz the jam to break off some of the figs.
Immediately pour into the prepared jars. Screw the lid on and allow the jars to cool down completely, upside-down. Store in a cool dry place.